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James Allen Walker for WORLD

The story of Scripture

2009 Books Issue | When Sally Lloyd-Jones lost her job, her career as an author began

Issue: "2009 Books Issue," July 4, 2009

Sally Lloyd-Jones is a British-born writer of wonderful children's books, most notably The Jesus Storybook Bible, which has sold well over 100,000 copies and shows better than many theological texts how everything in the Bible points to Christ.

Were you an imaginative child? I'm told I was always dreaming. They would have the children stand up in front at church and sing, and you could always tell the children who were really joining in and paying attention from the ones who were just staring into space. That was me-my sister was the one doing all the singing. I was always in another world.

Why did you decide 20 years ago to move from London to New York City? A New York job I saw advertised at a bookseller's in London described a job like the one I was already doing, and I thought, "Oh, that would be an adventure." I had always wanted my life to be like an adventure, and I was ready for one. I thought, "I can go for a year; there's nothing wrong with that." At the time I was thinking that it was probably not a good career move, but I imagined myself years later telling some grandchildren, "You know, I nearly went to America," and that was the end of the story. I thought, "Oh, that's awful. At least I can go and if it's awful, I can say that it didn't work out and come back."

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Was it awful? No. I had great fun, great friends, a great church-and I kept on staying.

You worked as a packager. What's a packager? A publisher that wants a particular format-a pop-up book, a photography book-hires a packager who does everything short of publishing the book. It was great training in how publishing works, very much fun, and never boring. You can end up writing the book, or designing it. It gets you thinking of not just the words of the book, but all aspects, like length, illustrations, and paper.

Later you went to work for Reader's Digest. Reader's Digest took us over, and my division-the Christian children's books line, we had a great team-suffered a 40 percent cutback in 2000. For some reason I just knew I was on that list. I had been praying against being cut because it was scary, even though I didn't love the work because it was getting really corporate, and I was doing less of what I really loved. I was a bit stifled, but you get caught up in the pension and the health care and the check every month, and you can't imagine that stopping. So all my prayers at the time were, "Lord, please don't let me be on that list. Please make the numbers look good so I can stay." If we knew everything that God was doing in our lives, we would cheer Him on. Thank goodness He didn't answer my prayer and He did what He was planning to do, which was get me out of there!

So suddenly you are out of work, and instead of despairing you have an opportunity to do something on your own. I was lucky to have an outplacement for six months, where I had an office to go to, copier machines, and that stuff. I thought I could be a sub-packager, which is everything except for printing the books. So I kept doing Christian children's books for publishers that I worked with. In the back of my mind I was thinking, I would love to write but I could never make a living writing, so I'll just keep doing this. I was working on one particular book, writing the text, and I thought, "Wait a minute, this text is actually quite good, I'm going to save it to do in a picture book." Then I invited an illustrator friend to come to New York, and suggested that we come up with an idea for a book.

Your niece helped? I noticed that my niece Olivia always carried around a pink handbag, even when she was playing horrible battles with her brother. She is such a girly girl; I was not like that. I asked her, "Olivia, what do you keep in your handbag?" She looked at me like I was the most insane person and she said, "My friends." She opened it up, and there was a purple troll, a green creature, a plastic carrot . . . something about that got my heart. It made me laugh, but it moved me in a weird way. So when my friend Sue came over we talked about handbags, and what we could put in a handbag. It was just going to be a novelty board book, six spreads. I was trying not to write a story, because I was so sure I couldn't write. We took it to the publisher and he said, "I love this idea, but we really need a story." I turned deathly pale and thought, "Now we're going to find out I can't write," even though writing was what I had always wanted to do.

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